The weekend before last, the weather in London was literally perfect. It was sunny but lingered in the 70s, just warm enough to feel like summer without bringing on a mean case of heat-induced irritation. You know, the other hangry. So Bethany and I decided to spend the day outside exploring the Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses.
Every year, the Serpentine Gallery commissions architects who have never built a permanent building in England to build the Serpentine Pavilion. This year, in addition to the Serpentine Pavilion, four other architects were commissioned to build the four Summer Houses.
The Magazine Restaurant and Sackler Gallery
We started the day off with lunch at The Magazine, the Serpentine Gallery’s restaurant and a Zaha Hadid design. Yes, that Zaha Hadid. Which is probably why the liquidity of its form manages to look simultaneously organic and alien. The contrast is especially stark since the Magazine sits right up against the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, housed in a sturdy 19th century brick structure that used to be a gunpowder store.
In all honesty, go for the architecture – because it’s bizarrely beautiful and steeped in soft white light in there – but I found the food uninspiring. B and I went in with adjusted expectations (because really, when was the last time you had a good meal at a gallery/museum restaurant?) and still left feeling slightly unsatisfied. Maybe more of an afternoon tea jaunt.
Each of the Summer Houses have markedly different aesthetics and occupy a different position on the sliding scale between art and functional seating space. My personal favorite was Barkow Leibinger’s Summer House. I loved how the building materials had been manipulated to curl like ribbon and how there was no front or back – only another face.
B’s favorite was Asif Khan’s Summer House, which vaguely resembles a large rib cage. I was surprised how successful the “walls” were at creating and containing the Summer House’s own ecosystem of calm. The day we visited it seemed all of London had also decided to take full advantage of the uncharacteristic warmth by visiting the Serpentine Pavilion, but perched within Khan’s House’s bones, the world outside felt but a distant distraction. Like the TV program you play in the background or background chatter in a restaurant.
This year’s Serpentine Pavilion was designed by Bjarke Ingels, the young starchitect whose firm one of my closest friends once worked for. I’ll admit that made me partial to Ingels’ creation before I even saw it. That and the fact that just down the block from my old apartment in New York, Ingels’ firm had just finished building an eco-friendly real-life Fortress of Solitude, and it is just about as dreamy as a residential apartment complex can be. Swoon.
From either end, Ingels’ Serpentine Pavilion looks a little like a half-unzipped zipper. From the side, a sloping wall of hollow Jenga blocks. But from the inside, it is a whole other world.
Inside, “Inception” wasn’t a genius work of fiction but the prevalent treatise on physics. The walls lean into one another before melding into a single infinite column.
You know, I’m a big fan of the stock glass monolith skyscraper, but it’s always inspiring interacting with architecture born outside the mold. It’s challenging, surprising, and raises questions about the purpose(s) of a built environment. And if nothing else, it’s a little reminder that function does not necessarily suffer at the cost of creativity in form.
All the related Serpentine buildings are located along the banks of the Serpentine (the big lake that kind of looks like a skinny blue whale) in the heart of Kensington Gardens. The Serpentine Pavilion showcases are clustered outside the Serpentine Gallery on one side of the Serpentine and the Sackler Gallery and The Magazine are just across a small bridge on the other side.
The nearest tube station is Lancaster Gate, along the north boundary of Kensington Gardens. From there, it’s a roughly 15 minute straight walk south inside Kensington Gardens.
The Prince of Wales Gate stop, served by lines 9, 10, and 452 is along the south boundary of Kensington Gardens. From there, it’s a roughly 5 minute straight walk north inside Kensington Gardens.
The Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses are up until October 9, 2016.
Monday – Sunday: 10AM – 6PM
Admission is free.
The Serpentine Pavilions are built to be interacted with. Weather permitting, just spend some time lounging on/in the different pavilions.